The Linux Game Box #3: Secret Maryo Chronicles

17 11 2008

thelinuxgamebox1The game I’m about to present you for this instalment of The Linux Game Box, it’s just one of those title so polished, smooth and fluid that lets you think that yes, there is hope for Linux to be just a little more of a gaming platform. I say this despite the simplicity that marks every aspect of this particular game.

I don’t wanna waste more time so let me introduce you Secret Maryo Chronicles.

Title:        Secret Maryo Chronicle
Genre:     Platform
License:  GNU Public License v3
Website:  http://www.secretmaryo.org/

Secret Maryo Chronicles is platform game heavily inspired (someone could find it a clone) by Nintendo’s Super Mario series. The game is coded in C++ with SDL and OpenGL libraries and it’s really pretty fluid on my 4yo laptop. On January 2008 SMC has been awarded #1 in the 5 best (free) open source games chart by the Australian computer magazing APC.

lvl_1 overworld screenshot_1

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INSTALLATION REQUIREMENTS 7

To install Secret Maryo Chronicles on (K)Ubuntu is sufficient to add the repository to your repository list with Synaptic or Adept.

The repository for (K)Ubuntu Intrepid Ibex is this:

deb http://archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu/ intrepid universe

The packages to be installed are called:

smc
smc-data
smc-music

The Ubuntu Package page can be found here. The download page on the official site is here

GAMEPLAY FUN 9

Of course Secret Maryo Chronicles is pure fun. Just like the old 2D Super Mario games you have basically to explore and travel through various levels running and jumping to crush enemies or discover goodies hidden behind bricks. There’s no more to say about it as this is a well tested formula of simple and mindless game fun. The sensation of running a Nintendo classic on your Linux machine is strong and, as far as I’m concerned, this is also a strong plus for this well done game.

GRAPHICS APPEAL 8

The graphics is simple but just perfect for the game. I would say it’s flawless either in concept or in design. The sprites and the world components are well refined with a great appeal. Again, main character apart all the graphics in the game strongly resemble that of Super Mario 2D games. This is not a drawback in my opinion but I must be honest and say that even if the guys in the wiki faq say they don’t want to clone Super Mario (that’s why they redrew the Maryo sprite) the sensation of playing a clone is pretty strong.

As already said the 2D engine runs perfectly fast in all the conditions I have been able to test.

SOUND DELIGHT 6

The sound is generally nice and does is job well.  The music is well suited for the game and again it reminds the Nintendo block buster. The sound effects are nothing special but they work sufficiently well.

STORY ENCHANTMENT → 3

You couldn’t expect the story to be a high score aspect in a game such as this one. The game ratio is all focused on the gameplay that, as I mentioned above, scrapes perfection. However even the Mario game’s attempted to sketch a story, at least as a sort of frame to give a “structured sense” to the action. Super Maryo lacks in this aspect. When you start the game you are presented with no introduction and no hints are shown during the games (at least during the few levels I played). At the beginning there’s just a map showing your progress in the world and that’s all.

A manual for the built-in editor can be found in the game wiki here.

BONUS POINTS 10

The game comes along with a built-in editor which is so simple and intuitive to be a valuable tool for enthusiast level creators. As a matter of fact by installing smc-data you are supplied with lots and lots of user created levels. To enter the editor you just press F8 when playing a level and you are allowed to modified everything with a drag and drop fashion by means of a side bar presenting all the game components. Creating a level with the SMC editor it’s really simple and fun. To prove this you can see a screenshot of my messing around and creating a dummy Wiz & Chips level.

editor

OVERALL SCORE 8.6

Here below you can see a video footage showing the game in action.

If you want browse more videos you can check the Secret Maryo Chronicles YouTube channel here


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The Linux Game Box #2: UFO: Alien Invasion

12 11 2008

thelinuxgamebox

In this installment of The Linux Game Box I will discuss about UFO: Alien Invasion (U:AI), a turn based strategy game in which humans must fight back aliens attempting to invade Earth.
You play both the head of PHALANX, an agency whose aim is to fight and study the alien invaders, and the several soldiers members of the tactical teams.
The game is heavily influenced by the well known and appreciated X-COM and especially by the X-COM: UFO Defense episode.
U:AI is licensed under the GNU General Public License.

The project is alive and very active. The team is well coordinated and always looking for help in various aspect of the game production. Help is needed in many fields ranging from coding to 3D modelling and animating, translating, etc…
This is indeed one of the most interesting aspect of open source games which give the chance to common people to be part of an amazing project in the area where their skill can be more of help. As a matter of fact, giving my chronic lack of spare time, I found an ideal way of helping this project by translating part of the game text (which is quite massive in this case) to Italian.
If you want to get involved in the project you may refer to the wiki for the full list of areas you can contribute to develop. The easiest way to meet up with the community however is perhaps joining them at this IRC channel (irc://irc.freenode.org/ufo:ai).

geoscape_01_595 aircraft_team_595 colon04_595

crashsite_595 ingame003_595 ingame004_595

INSTALLATION REQUIREMENTS 10

U:AI is already present in the repositories and can thus been easily installed via Synaptic or Adept. If you run (K)Ubuntu you will also find the game inside the list of the add/remove tool.
Apart from Linux, the game runs also on Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X.

However instructions can be found here and the download trunk can be found here.

GAMEPLAY FUN 9

There are two main gameplays sections that compose the game: a strategy/management part and a tactical/action part.
In the strategy/management part you take the role of the head of PHALANX and must take high level decision like arranging the base facility, hire personnel, start researches, schedule equipment and vehicle production and send squads to intercept alien fighters and engage alien troops on the ground. The time management system for this phase is based on the calendar in the way of other famous games like Sim City or The Sims. You can adjust the time speed in order to increase or decrease the chance of an alien ambush to take place during this phase (thus pushing you to the tactical phase).
In the tactical part you command the privateers and specialists of the tactical team to perform the mission objective. The action is split in turns and every character has a defined amount of Time Units (TU) to perform each desired action (i.e. walk, recharge the weapon, throw a frag grenade, etc..).
If you like strategy games you will find the gameplay mechanism of U:AI well calibrated thus providing a large amount of fun.
There’s also the possibility for multiplayer game either via LAN or Internet connection.

GRAPHICS APPEAL 8

U:AI’s game engine is based on a heavily modified version of ID Software’s Quake2 engine. The graphics quality is thus quite high and there’s clearly the evidence of an effort to give the game a touch of professionalism. As the matter of fact the open source team has the target of producing a game which increases and surpasses, in all aspects, the game experience and overall quality of the original 1992 title. The updated OpenGL graphics shows well polished 3D models, several detailed environments, special effects, high resolution textures and nice characters animations.

SOUND DELIGHT 9

A big attention is given to the music and sound effects (more to the first to be honest) in order to create the right atmosphere for the game. This is another aspect which tells you how much care the team puts into this project.

STORY ENCHANTMENT 10

This is the game’s strongest plus.
U:AI takes place in 2084 in a planet Earth with a geopolitical configuration pretty different to the present real one. The various countries around the world did solidify and unify in huge blocks, with The Greater European Union and The Asian Republic being the most powerful and rich ones. Humanity is on the verge of welfare and peace at a level never experienced in its whole history. In this idyllic scenario aliens come out of the blue and attack the Indian city of Mumbai causing thousands of casualties among civilians and
troops of The Commonwealth . The new UN meet and Earth declares war to the unknown aliens. Standard army approaches show poor results thus leading to the creation of PHALANX: an secret agency, established under UN banner, which summons the best of the best of Earth resources to eliminate the alien menace.
Every aspect of the game is rich of detail. The story literally rises from the player’s progress in the game. For this reason every mission performed contains a cliffhanger, in the shape of an upcoming research on alien specimen or equipments, or story developments resulting from the mission accomplishment.

OVERALL SCORE 9.2

here below you can see a video trailer of the game






Verical Scrolling on (K)Ubuntu touchpads updated to 8.10

8 11 2008

Not so many days ago my good friend Carlo posted a column on his blog court of misanthropy with the instructions to enable the Mac flavored vertical finger scrolling on Ubuntu and Kubuntu laptops. You can find my plug of his article here.

Anyway since the updated Xorg 7.4 running onto the freshly delivered 8.10 Intrepid Ibex version of the Ubuntu and Kubuntu distros those “old” instructions aren’t valid anymore.

But Carlo’s a smart guy and has already provided a new procedure which he tested and should therefore run smoothly on your laptops.

As far as Carlo’s concerned it seems that the problem is the enabling of SHMConfing within an untrusted environment which is share among different users. It follows that the safest way to enable the two-fingers scrolling is use an XML file for the Hardware Abstraction Layer with the setting for this function.

The file must contain the following code:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="ISO-8859-1"?>
<deviceinfo version="0.2">
  <device>
    <match key="input.x11_driver" contains="synaptics">
    <merge key="input.x11_options.SHMConfig" type="string">On</merge>
    <merge key="input.x11_options.TapButton2" type="string">3</merge>
    <merge key="input.x11_options.TapButton3" type="string">2</merge>
    <merge key="input.x11_options.VertTwoFingerScroll" type="string">1</merge>
    <merge key="input.x11_options.HorizTwoFingerScroll" type="string">1</merge>
  </match>
</device>
</deviceinfo>

And it must be saved as:

/etc/hal/fdi/policy/11-synaptics-options.fdi

If you’re no Linux overlord just follow these plug ‘n’play instructions:

1- Download this file already cooked by Carlo and save it in your home folder (i.e. /home/TheOneElectronic)

2- Open up the console, check you’re in your /home and type:

sudo cp 11-synaptics-options.fdi /etc/hal/fdi/policy/

3- Restart the computer (it’s not enough to restart X)

The two-finger scrolling should now be working

Further option: how to enable (Q)GSynaptics e SHMConfig

If you happen to be the only user of your pc you could anyway enabling GSynaptics (QSynaptics for KDE) you must create the file /etc/hal/fdi/policy/shmconfig.fdi containing the following code:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="ISO-8859-1"?>
 <deviceinfo version="0.2">
 <device>
 <match key="input.x11_driver" string="synaptics">
 <merge key="input.x11_options.SHMConfig" type="string">True</merge>
 </match>
 </device>
 </deviceinfo>

And here’s the simplified version:

1- download this file already prepared for you and put it in your /home

2- Open up the console, check you’re in your /home and type:

sudo cp shmconfig.fdi /etc/hal/fdi/policy/

3- Restart the computer

4- search and install (Q)GSynaptics with Synaptic or Adept

That’s all folks!





The Linux Game Box #1: Astromenace

5 11 2008

thelinuxgamebox

Astromenace is a vertical scrolling shooter of the likes of the classic shot ‘em up like Xenon2 Megablaster.

The concept behind the game is fairly simple and all focused on piloting a space ship and fighting swarms of alien invaders.

The game is made by the Ukrainian software house Viewizard and is released as freeware for the Linux platform. A demo version is also available for Windows.

am3 am6 am5

am7 am10 am1

INSTALLATION REQUIREMENTS 10

After downloading a 34 or so tar.bz2 file from this page it’s just enough to unzip it and double click on the bin in order to start the game.

For those who prefer to add the game to the apt repository a simple procedure is explained.

Minimum requirements:
Linux OS
Pentium 1+ GHz
128 MB RAM
3D video accelerator with 32+ MB on board
Runtime dependencies:
libSDL (ver 1.2.6+), libopenal (ver 1.0+), libalut (ver 1.0+), libogg (ver 1.1+), libvorbis (ver 1.1+), libvorbisfile (ver 1.1+), libjpeg (ver 6b+).

GAMEPLAY FUN 8

Astromenace is a great fun. The alien ships are huge in number and relentless in their effort to attack the human homeland (bosses included). The alien swarms remember well those of the arcade games of the 80’ as they seem much more like automated and stupid drones than manoeuvred by an intelligent form of life. However on the human side of the war the game offers interesting features. There are something like 20 different ships that can be purchased and upgraded with a whole stock of equipments and weaponry.

GRAPHICS APPEAL 9

The overall graphic design is neat. The ships, equipments, aliens and environment are all carefully designed and will make you remember of several sci-fi movies and video games. Astromenace is all 3D accelerated graphics which provides a whole range of special effects that make the game one of the most graphically polished of the Linux games landscape.

SOUND DELIGHT 7

The sound and music are just fine and provide the right atmosphere for the game

STORY ENCHANTMENT 6

There’s no much to say here. As I told before Astromenace aim is not that of charming the gamer with its refined and complicated story. For this reason I give it a 6.

BONUS POINTS 8

It’s possible to modify the game quite easily by editing an xml file. Viewizard provides a guide to help the user handling with the scripts.

OVERALL SCORE 8

In the video below you can have a look at the game play and graphics






The Linux Game Box

30 10 2008


Linux is well known as a poor platform for the hardcore video game user. If you look for the video game market hits you won’t find them running under Linux. For that you’d better choose a PC or mostly a last generation game console such as Xbox360, PS3 or the more niche oriented one Nintendo Wii.

The Linux game panorama is not completely bare though. Just for this I want to start this new column to periodically present one Linux game I installed and played with my laptop. The use of a laptop takes a specific role here. Having said that Linux is -at the moment- completely alien to the massively marketed and leading technology games, then to play games on Linux which are playable and enjoyable on a honest average laptop it’s something lots of people can be interested in. We’re not speaking of a game oriented machine but something that you more likely already use for work or in school.

The machine I will play the games to review is the following:

Packard Bell EasyNote (2005)
Graphic card: Ati Mobility Radeon X1600
CPU: Centrino Duo T2300
RAM: 1Gb
OS: Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron

So, I will periodically look for one game (I already have a bunch of them noted down in tomboy) install it and play it. Then I will write something like a draft review (nothing like an IGN behemot) in this column. I will give my opinion on the basis of the following aspects:

– Installation pain
– Gameplay fun
– Graphical appeal
– Sound delight
– Story enchantment

The choice of the games is completely biased. At first I will start from games do have an appeal to me and then move on from those. Of course you can let me know your suggestions.

I do hope with this work to help sharing the know how of the Linux free and open source (and commercial maybe) scenario as well as paying tribute to those teams of enthusiasts who do such a great job and supply us Linux lovers with wonderful games.

The first review is about AstroMenace so stay tuned folks!





The Linux road to heaven

23 10 2008

One article by Ed Bott on Zdnet made me think of how Linux enthusiast often underestimate the complexity of the scenario regarding Linux based systems market share and penetration.
Bott reported MSI concerns about their Linux based machines which, they state, suffer from a higher return rate (up to 4 times) from end users than windows based machines. They say they will stick to their effort to manufacture and sell Linux laptops but disclose the problems they must face in offering such machines to the desktop public (e.g. higher costs for software development and support, especially when we speak of low price sub notebooks like those of their Wind line). I can accept this complaint as a general one but in the specific I wonder why the huge success of similar products (Asus EEE PC for one) occurred despite the problems MSI disclosed.
Bott admits he writes about Windows for a living and though we can judge his opinion as biased and MSI example as poorly relevant one, but this is not the point and not certainly the object of my thought.
Up to today there’s no competition in the OS market shares, except for an ongoing insurrection from the part of OSX. With OSX we’d better speak of system ascent, but I bet the share of Linux distros altogether is nothing more than a tiny biodiversity in the personal computers world ecosystem. I say this without a solid statistic base given that I haven’t really found any statistics I’m comfortable with on the web.
Focusing on the desktop environment and considering the most spread distros I am more than conscious that Linux is a valuable alternative to Microsoft Windows. From the day I migrated to Ubuntu I’ve always done my best to convert friends and colleagues to a Linux distro. Sometimes I even got close to it. I never succeeded though.

I share Bott’s opinion when he talks about habits. Men stick to their habits and they’re not prone to invest time end energy in trying different things, especially when these things aren’t always full interchangeable. From the many problems which prevent Linux to penetrate the mainstream market I think this is the most relevant one. Microsoft is a colossus and despite all the attacks it suffers from geeks it has indeed been able to create and promote a system in such a massive way that nowadays the mass of people just consider Windows as a standard. More of that, they believe it’s a standard! For those people it’s just inconceivable to have a PC running an operating system different to the one they’re used to see and use. Sometimes when I enthusiastically speak of all the wonders and advantages (which are far from few and irrelevant) of a Linux system to people, they just listen to me with that attitude which says “yes, they also say you can receive broadcast tv with your screw driver”… That’s enervating but it’s just a normal reaction.
So, how could Linux improve its market share?

Well, I’m no business guru but I have some points about this issue. There are three marketing tricks which I think might give the market a little shake.

First: Focus the target.
Many distros have made (and are constantly making) giant leaps as desktop environment solutions. This is precisely why I took the decision to wipe out XP from my laptop and install Ubuntu. Despite these improvements Linux needs to strike those places where people are obliged to use a system which had been already chosen for them. With this I mean the work places. Let’s take Canonical as reference for our example. Say that Canonical propels LUGS or member of LUGS to start an activity to promote Ubuntu distro. Activities could be scheduled to propose small, medium sized and even large companies (in particular those belonging to the public administration) to consider the Linux distro when the desktop stations renewal is scheduled.

Second: Strike carefully
When carefully proposed, with a rational set of elements -an assertive mood and a clear presentation- there are strong reasons for such target companies to switch partially or fully to one Linux based distro. A partially switch is especially advisable as target because it permits to focus on a specific business sector more prone to be converted to Linux. Thinking of the company where I work, I found it difficult to imagine a sudden switch to say Ubuntu in the engineering department where there are mass investments on software running under XP. On the contrary it could be more convenient to convert the machines running in other departments such as administration, planning, warehouse, production, quality, to Linux. In my company the main problem would certainly be the management tool which is commonly used by all these departments and run under XP. Nevertheless a long time schedule conversion to Linux to such kind of departments can indeed offer strong advantages which are so much relevant for an organization to result in money saving and work flow improvement. Let aside the money aspect, two of the basic problems affecting the average company computer network are instability issues and system damages caused by viruses. Many people are illiterate when concerning even the basic aspects of information technology. I personally assisted to a warehouse man who wrongly typed DHL URL and when a nice gurl showed up with the sentence “click me” on her boobs, guess what he did?

Third: Development and development
Big things come out of small things. How can we seriously expect a big company involved in big projects requiring huge investments spread on a pipeline of hundreds of people to release a version of their best seller software for a platform which is to their eyes sterile? In this I strongly agree with those who say that commercial software isn’t necessarily evil. Some forms of exploitation of commercial software or some commercial practices are. For this reason the promotion to those small workshops which can produce and release innovative and quality software for Linux is much important. Take games for example. I’m motivated to think that a strongly engaged and highly skilled team of independent people can realise games that are at least for some aspect comparable to the million dollars productions that bust the market nowadays. Don’t forget that such a small team would work under completely different organisational and money constraints, especially when the team represent a start up entity for the members. Linux game scenario is today rich of high quality and completely free and open source games being developed by communities of enthusiasts whose main aim is no other than to see their game to grow and flourish. Free tools are also there to help this process. We have Blender which is a 3D modelling tool comparable to the professional ones used in “serious” game productions. Blender is also equipped with an integrated game engine, and we even have more powerful engines like Ogre3D, Crystal Space, and Panda3D which is maintained and used in Disney’s commercial game products.

Linux is a great operating system with big capabilities and a vast community of supporters. I do believe that Linux in general is really one tool that can help improve the world we are living in. We just need to be more focused and less dispersive. I know that dispersion is one of the main characteristics of Linux, as highlighted by the multitude of distros, but I’m truly convinced that the success of our cause will pass through unity.

Ubuntu success in achieving a vast public knowledge is there just to witness this concept.

Pictures by:

phauly licensed under this creative commons license

tripu licensed under this creative commons license

….Tim licensed under this creative commons license





Mac-flavored two-fingers scroll for any Linux touchpad

20 10 2008

I’m speaking to you, proud possessor of a Ubuntu based laptop. Have you ever been mocked by your Mac pal ‘cause she/he could scroll web pages with an elegant and trendy two-fingered movement on the touchpad? Well, I have just discovered that the same advanced Mac feature is present on the vast majority of the Synaptics touchpads.

My good friend Carlo, of the Italian technology podcast Tecnica Arcana, posted a quick tutorial, in Italian, on his blog Court of Misanthropy. By reading it I’ve noticed that it’s pretty simple to apply the modification needed to activate the two fingers scroll feature. I’ve followed the tutorial which worked perfectly. I must admit that now when I scroll pages with two fingers my touchpad behaves quite weirdly. Often the page leaps forward of a big amount of lines. Then when the scroll reaches the end of the page it’s impossible to scroll up with the two finger gesture because when doing so the page keeps bouncing backwards. By the way this issue is likely to be related to my own touchpad model or to some other configuration. My friend Carlo and other people who followed his tutorial have found no problem with this feature.

Let’s start the quick guide. You basically need to add a few lines to your xorg.conf file and install a controller from the repositories. I’ve done this tutorial on my Packard Bell laptop with distro Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron.

1- let’s backup xorg.conf

sudo cp /etc/X11/xorg.conf /etc/X11/xorg.conf.copy

2- open xorg.conf

sudo gedit /etc/X11/xorg.conf

3- go to the section “input synaptics” and add the following three lines at the end of the section (just before “end section”)

Option “SHMConfig” “on”
Option “VertTwoFingerScroll” “true”
Option “HorizTwoFingerScroll” “true”

The section will resemble something like this

Section “InputDevice”
Identifier “Synaptics Touchpad”
Driver “synaptics”
Option “SendCoreEvents” “true”
Option “Device” “/dev/psaux”
Option “Protocol” “auto-dev”
Option “HorizEdgeScroll” “0”
Option “SHMConfig” “on”
Option “VertTwoFingerScroll” “true”
Option “HorizTwoFingerScroll” “true”
EndSection

4- install gsynaptics from the repositories (you will then found it under system/preferences).

gsynaptics is an application which allow you to adjust the setting for your touchpad. You can also enable the single finger and two fingers tapping which respectively recreate the left mouse button and the press of the mouse scroll wheel (it opens a new tab in firefox)

5- reload X with ctrl+alt+backspace (or restart the system)

If you are an Italian speaker you can watch a youtube video tutorial on Carlo’s blog. More than this I strongly recommend you to listen to Tecnica Arcana podcast which is a simply outstanding podcast rich of interesting technological discussion.

Let me know if you found this guide useful!